Donald Trump is a distant second in campaign for the first 2016 presidential nominating contest in Iowa. But if the views of some of the nation's most hard-core Republicans are any indication, the billionaire has enough support to remain a factor in the race for quite some time.
Among those planning to attend the state's Feb. 1 Republican caucuses, 50 percent told the latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll that Trump says "things that need to be said" and they hope hope he continues to do so.
The poll bolsters concerns on the part of Republican Party leaders who are gradually coming to terms with the fact that Trump has a large enough and committed enough base of supporters to continue to be a major factor in the race, even if he fails to score wins in Iowa and other early contests.
"His supporters are going to stay with him, come hell or high water," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, who served on Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008. "No one knows how to stop it."
The latest findings from Iowa, in a poll by West Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., underscore how deeply polarizing a figure Trump has become. While half of Republican caucus-goers like the contribution he's made to the campaign, another 40 percent have grown weary of the real estate mogul's attention-grabbing pronouncements, saying they initially thought he was saying some things that needed to be said, but he's gone too far.
Nearly two-thirds of likely Republican caucus-goers say they wouldn't consider supporting an independent campaign by Trump, who is 10 points behind Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the latest Iowa Poll.
"I’m a Republican and I don’t want him to be a turncoat," said Don Combs, 78, a retired high school teacher from Bloomfield, Iowa. "I don’t think he can be elected as an independent."
Yet among those who support Trump, feelings run strong: 58 percent of his backers say they would strongly consider voting for him as an independent. Another 10 percent would simply consider it. And in a state of notoriously late-deciding voters, 45 percent of Trump's supporters say their minds are made up about whom they will be backing in the caucuses, a higher percentage than either of his chief rivals can claim. Among Cruz supporters, 43 percent say their minds are made up; the figure among backers of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is 34 percent.
Jan Woodroffe, 70, who works in education and is a Republican from Fort Madison, Iowa, said Trump is the candidate who has the greatest "ability to get things done," so she very well might back him as an independent candidate.
"If we get a Republican in that doesn’t get things done, it won’t be any better than it is now," she said.
One of Trump's proposals that has earned him the most withering criticism is being received more positively in Iowa. A plurality of Republicans planning to attend the caucuses back Trump's idea of temporarily banning Muslims from entering the U.S., with 49 percent supporting and 43 percent opposing.
Among Trump's own supporters, 73 percent favor his idea. For those backing Cruz, it's 51 percent.
"If we can’t verify when people are coming in, what their intentions are, then I do support it," said Mike Hartwig, 55, a financial planner in Altoona, Iowa. "When so many Muslims are coming in, and they have clear intentions to do the United States harm, we can’t open our country up until we can verify what their intentions are."
Hartwig said he thinks the position Trump has taken shows he's a strong leader.
"I appreciate him standing up and saying this," he said. "I appreciate that he has the guts enough to say that we need to protect ourselves from people doing harm. Now, are there exceptions, of course, but how do we weed them out from the people who don’t have those good intentions? I think in many ways we’ve lost this idea that there are people in this world that want to destroy America.
Democrats likely to attend their party's caucuses are diametric opposites on Trump's proposed Muslim ban, with 87 percent opposed and 11 percent supportive.
In Iowa at least, Trump seems to have grown on Republican voters the longer he's been in the race. Among Republicans likely to attend the caucuses, a plurality—43 percent —say they've always thought of Trump as a serious candidate. Another 38 percent say they didn't think of the former reality television star in a serious way when he first entered the race in June, but they do now.
Jonathan Guynn, 71, a Republican retiree from Tripoli, Iowa, said he initially "underestimated" Trump, but likes him the more he learns about him and hears him speak. "He’s a doer and I just believe he’ll get things done," he said. "He is kind of a radical in his own way, but I like it."
The Iowa Poll, taken Dec. 7-10, included 400 likely Republican caucus participants and 404 likely Democratic caucus participants. On the full sample, it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, although higher for subgroups.
—Arit John, Emily Greenhouse and Kevin Cirilli contributed to this article.